Corp. might still be selling cars with boxy, sharp-edged interiors and the Dodge Ram big pickup might look like any other truck if Bernard Creed had ignored the suggestion of a perceptive headmaster at a school his son Trevor never attended.
The scene: near Birmingham, England, in the early 1960's. The Beatles were preparing to invade America. But of more immediate concern to his precocious 16-year-old son, Mr. Creed had just moved the family to a new town. That meant starting over, making new friends, trying to fit in at an age when even the most well-adjusted adolescents are emotionally fragile. The time had come to meet with the headmaster at the new school.
After reviewing young Trevor's portfolio of paintings and drawings, the administrator siggested the family's money might be better spent sending their only son to the school of art and design at Birmingham Polytechnic.
"My father thought that was pure heresy," recalls Trevor, who is now in charge of's interior designs as well as the exterior design of its Jeep and truck products. "He associated art school with long-haired, bearded hippie-types who just did oil paintings and could not make a living. Frankly, it was only because of my Dad's great respect for people in authority, like headmasters, that he was convinced we should go for an interview."
It would not be the first time the sandy-haired lad transcended the limits of those controlling his future.
More than any other American automotive designer, Trevor Creed has elevated the status, prestige and consumer awareness of how cars and trucks look and feel from the inside. There was once a time when young automotive designers regarded interior work as the equivalent of being assigned to the second team. Those days are over. Many ads now feature interior shots more prominently than the exterior lines.
"The aesthetic of 'creature features' is probably Trevor's greatest contribution," says Carl L. Olsen, chairman of transportation design at Detroit's Center for Creative Studies. "Things like the integrated child seats in Chrysler's minivans and the center armrest on the Dodge Ram, which is wide enough to hold a laptop computer. These are things that caused everyone else to ask `Why didn't we think of that?'"
Mr. olsen and Mr. Creed work together once a year on a design evaluation project with CCS students. Although he is very much at ease talking about himself and his job and projects no trace of arrogance, Mr. Creed can be quite blunt and hard-nosed in the role of mentor or guest instructor.
"He pulls no punches," says Mr. Olsen. "His criticisms go right to the core of what things a vehicle should achieve. The students may take it very hard initially, but in the long run his comments probably help them."
How a British-educated designer has made his mark on such quintessentially American vehicles as minivans, sport/utilities and pickup trucks is only one of several ironies that frame Mr. Creed's career.
More than a decade ago, after sculpting the interiors of the original 1986Taurus and Mercury Sable -- both American automotive icons if there ever were -- Mr. Creed was told to return to Europe against his wishes. It was the beginning of an end to an already frustrating relationship.
After all, Mr. Creed yearned to come to the U.S. from the day he was first hired byof Britain in 1966. While he moved quite rapidly up the design management ladder both in England and Germany, it took 16 years to finagle his first assignment across the Atlantic. After three short years in Dearborn, Ford management was telling him it was time to go back. He did not take it well.
"If we let you stay, then we would have to do it for everybody and, gosh, we wouldn't have any designers left in Europe," Mr. Creed recalls being told. "Of course they hadn't invented Ford 2000 yet. Now they're pulling people from Ford of Europe who don't even want to come'
Ford may have stemmed a brain drain from its European design staff, but meanwhile Chrysler Chairman Lee A. Iacocca was leading a raid on Ford's executive ranks that eventually opened a way for Mr. Creed to stay in the U.S. The gang of Ford, as they were called, included Harold K. Sperlich, Gerald Greenwald, Bennett E. Bidwell and eventually former Ford of Europe Chairman Robert A. Lutz, who helped arrange Mr. Creed's first Ford assignment in the U.S., and who would help revive Chrysler after its near-death experience in the early 1980s.
Besides Mr. Lutz, Mr. Creed's other link to Chrysler was Erick A. Reickert, who had left Ford to become director of Chrysler's program management.
So when his desire to remain in the States eclipsed his loyalty to Ford, Trevor called Mr. Reickert, who helped arrange some secretive late-night interviews with Mr. Sperlich.
"Don't judge us by the cars we have right now," Mr. Sperlich told him. "We're about to promote a young designer named Tom Gale (recently promoted to executive vice president-product Design and International Operations) to revamp our entire design operations." It was the start of a relationship that transformed Chrysler from an adequate manufacturer of basic transportation to a styling innovator.
When he's not drafting an instrument panel for a future Grand Cherokee or the '98 LH cars, Mr. Creed unwinds with 11-year-old stepson Todd and his 6-year-old son Christopher at his West Bloomfield, MI, condominium. His oldest son, Alexander, is in graduate school at the University of California-Riverside. Or he helps wife Deborah, a former designer at Ford, with his culinary talent.
"When I was single I would just buy cookery books. Now I have a library of about 200 of them," he says. "I'm more excited when my food magazines arrive in the mail than when my car magazines come."
For more urgent escape, Mr. Creed retreats to his home studio where he indulges in impressionistic oil pastel drawings of suburban landscapes. A collection of his work recently was displayed at a Birmingham-Bloomfield Arts Association exhibit.